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“Loving to read as a strategist”. Episode 5. Gutenberg´s Legacy.

Wonderful wishes of Autumn for all of you. Today´s publication is about Gutenberg´s legacy. We are revisiting some historical premises about writing and reading in our quest to contextualize our saga “Loving to read as a strategist”. We always try to offer some reflections about the past, with the purpose that you can consider thinking about them. Particularly in the current context of excessive utilization of NAIQIs (Nanotechnologies, Artificial Intelligence, Quantum Supremacy, and the Internet). We can´t move into the core of our pleasant substance for the next months, without a journey to the past.  Last week we found ourselves understanding the evolution of the manuscripts and the way the premium surface (paper) joined the plateau in Europe. Today we will proceed in that same sense, with our saga´s storyline.    So, let´s begin.

Books and more books. An exercise watercolor 7 x 5 inches. Paper Fabriano 300GSM Traditional White
Painted with Holbein pigments.

And then Gutenberg´s landed on stage. According to several authors that have dedicated their lives to the history of books, just right before Gutenberg´s hard work appearance in Mainz, Germany; there were others trying to do the same, with different technologies. We already have uncovered the way in which the handwritten manuscripts were done inside the monasteries. We also have explored how paper got into Europe after the Arabs stole the paper production theory and practice from the Chinese. Or at least this piece of history is what we know by now.

Gutenberg´s delicacy. What amazes me from reading about the life of Gutenberg, is not the fact that he produced the first printing press using movable metal monotypes. Probably he simply replicated something that was already done in Asia or his sophistication in printing was being developed at the same time as his Asian printer peers. All that we know is that in Gutenberg´s epoch, the Chinese (and then the Arabs) were already working using the woodblock monotypes. According to our book historians´ sources of reference, Europe in the 15th century already had those experiments running back and forth. So it is not Gutenberg´s resulting technology that astonishes me.  What really astounds me is how he went from an apprentice of his father´s workshop role in Mainz (circa 1415) to the moment in time in which he printed the first Bible in 1455. As a “state-of-the-art” corporate strategist, I am a theorist.  I am a philosopher of the corporate strategy domains.  I specifically do strategic reflections about those who are running and making decisions about industries, products, and services.

Studying Gutenberg´s path (see slide number 5) is my way of toasting his triumph in helping us to read. Of course, I have to rely on books from other authors, and I do give them all the credits when that is appropriate.  All I do first is to show you the big picture and the details of the subject by using these authors’ sights. Then we proceed with our specific original work: strategic reflections of that big picture. If in any way, I have not explained myself well about my endeavors, I beg your pardon. But I can´t start putting strategic reflections on the table, without the basics, and that is why we had to go to the experts of the history of the books, we have to go back in time to the past, to see a complete overview for our next saga episodes.

Learning to read is to learn to writeIllustrative and non-commercial image. Photo Source: Popular Mechanics.

Gutenberg´s legacy. Before continuing to analyze Gutenberg´s legacy, we encourage you to read the slides prepared above. All of them are self-explanatory.   Then come back, and let me know what you think of our strategic reflections. Feel free to add more if you wish.

  • In terms of corporate strategy, our core is to help decision-makers in corporations and companies to assert “what they will do with their company”, and then how, why, where, when, and for whom are these product portfolios going to grow? So, our first thinking is beyond the technology of the press in the mind of Gutenberg. Johannes was attempting to survive his invention over the years. He knew it was going to take a lot of time to get to where he wanted to be. And he knew he didn´t have the resources for it. In consequence, our first reflection of today is about Gutenberg´s decision to partner with others.  We have the impression, that he couldn´t discern well with whom to associate. During his first entrepreneurship endeavor, the one in which he wanted to sell convex mirrors in a pilgrimage event, he associated with three other craftsmen to raise capital for it. His quest to sell mirrors was stopped because of two external events: a flood, and a plague. The 1439-year pilgrimage to Aachen was canceled, and he remained with all the mirrors in Strasbourg.  One of his partners passed away, and Gutenberg was sued by the relatives of the deceased. Interestingly enough, Gutenberg decided to stay for another 5 years contract meanwhile the court could resolve in favor of him, and that was the time in which the print-press technology was beginning to take place in his head. Until the year 1448, Gutenberg continued doing research and developing his business model, but it didn’t break through.  The same occurred later in Mainz when Gutenberg got two loans from Johannes Fust. It is clear to anyone’s eyes, that Fust was not caring for Gutenberg as an inventor, and then he exercised the foreclosure, leaving Gutenberg in a disastrous broken condition. Our first deliberation is: take your time to know your future partners in business, you shouldn´t share equity or accept loans with anyone with whom you know in advance that will take advantage of you. Sometimes the situation expands to third parties, and also to your closest collaborators, who may also betray you, just for some money on the way. If you feel something is not working at the outset, better to say no and stay out of future partnerships’ disasters. Better to run away, than to risk your inventions.
  • Our second reflection is about Gutenberg´s capabilities: “A well-prepared professional in different disciplines matters”.  See slide number 7. Gutenberg´s life was a prolonged lifetime educational experience. He couldn´t become a printer designer without a high level of inherited vision and imagination, but also he was able because he was prepared. He held a solid educational background. He had the apprenticeship passage of his father’s legacy (goldsmithing), and he also had access to university. It is clear that he was a brilliant, exceptional craftsman. He continued evolving in his knowledge, with a design-based research mentality. Testing and making mistakes. His first book, occurred 40 years after he began as an apprentice with his father, a man with patrician roots, who opened doors to him. His mother also provided access later in her hometown near Strasbourg, so he could join the academy to learn Latin and German at a higher level. He was a studious well-educated man, practitioner, and inventor.
  • Our third reflection is about Gutenberg´s mindset: He was a champion strategist on connecting the dots between the simple and the complex. See Slide number 8. Gutenberg had a unique strength, that didn’t happen automatically to anyone: he could connect his experience of metals, with the development of movable monotypes. On top of that he changed the 4 existing components of the printing press and adapted and/or modified them not once, but many times, using loops of trials until he could create a unique machine that produced the first printed Bible on earth.
  • The fourth reflection about Gutenberg´s corporate strategy: He was a perfectionist who never stopped performing problem-solving. See slide 9. This man solved all the hardships and difficulties of assembling the grape press, the ink, the paper, and the metal monotypes until he got an A+.  He did not change the people´s habits; he changed the instruments of his press toolkit. He was not deliberately imposing his first idea, but after thousands of failed intents, he got it well… Time has proven to this day, that no one in history has gotten mental addictions or has been sick from reading good books or from becoming a bookworm.
  • The fifth reflection is about Gutenberg´s capacity, beyond economics (slide 10). His compromise was to make it happen slowly but faithfully.  He applied the conceptual theories of his academics and practices himself. He was the owner of his knowledge. He did it by himself in his hometown Mainz, and he applied: the sum of the parts makes it a much greater whole. Gutenberg´s capacity to discover the crucial aspects of collecting the right pieces and assembling them turned the value chain of making books into a whole new story. The monks from the scriptoria worked arduously with amazing results, but the book then was not a communication device. With Gutenberg´s heritage, the books became the means for the “spread and influence of ideas and debate throughout Europe”.
  • The sixth reflection is about our theoretical framework of “strategic agility”. Gutenberg, himself, was a clear example of excellence when applying the strategic agility concept in his life as an inventor. Look at slide 11. It took him years to arrive at the movable type of print press, but he did it with dedication and with delicacy. Honoring each step on its way to success. He wasn´t in a hurry, he never imposed the tolerable product before it was ready. He wanted to do good and great, not offer mediocrity. Even if he paid the price to lose his business in the hands of his sponsor. As a boomerang, his sponsor Fust has been remembered as the bad character of Gutenberg´s movie for more than 500 years.
  • And the seventh and last one: He was a creator, an innovator, a true inventor guru, the hero of our story. See slide number 12 for further details.

Announcement: Since we need to cover the aspects of reading/writing after Gutenberg´s subsequent phases: The Protestant Reformation, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the century of the first industrial revolution, we will write about these 5 topics during the next chapters, in a specific paragraph at the beginning of each publication, so you don´t feel that we jumped from Gutenberg to the XX Century. We will dedicate a tiny “on-point” overview of each period and a couple of strategic reflections on each of these spans of time, in the translation of our past reading history.  Originally, when I prepared the outline per episode, I wasn´t planning to include them. But I have changed my mind last week. Moreover, it is wise, for the sake of your own illustration, to at least get some strategic reflections about what happened with reading-writing between the year 1500 to the beginning of the past century.  

Next episode, we will continue with the subject “Reading in the XX Century”.

The First Bible was printed in history by Gutenberg. From the year 1455.

Strategic Music Section.

Music Reading chill-outs

How to begin to love reading again?

Many of us don´t like to read, because we have been framed by the experiences that we got when we were studying our K-12 (from 1st grade to last year of high school). And we ought to understand that those years for reading were formative and foundational.  Today´s section is about the beauty of choosing by yourself for the right topics to read.  We will deploy all the elements of what to read in chapter 12th. Nevertheless, our aim today is to show you how to get inspired to pick up a specific book instead of another. And that is up to you. Each of us has his/her own interests and hobbies. And each of us will have to test our preferences, make mistakes, and find out what we like the most.

Systematically there are thousands of book genres that you can select. But, give me some credit with this idea: Let´s ask first what do you really like when you watch image-visual content? For example, if someone likes to watch videos about history, then it is wise that you go to a library, or to a bookstore, or even to a web-encyclopedia and type the name of the person or hero of the piece of history that you wish to learn. Read it. Then find a book about that person´s biography. Find the author that suits you better. Read the book introduction in your bookstore or library (at least 2 to 3 pages of it, see the index too). Biographies are a beautiful manner to ignite our desire to read. That is why we chose to write about Gutenberg´s legacy today.

Today´s music is played by the Dutch pianist Jeroen Van Veen. It is the album Yann Tiersen: ‘Pour Amélie’ Piano Music.

Take in mind that we share music for reading that can bring you back to the habit of touching paper books again. We are not practicing piracy of any kind, and we are not stealing any intellectual property of any artist.  On the contrary, our aim is to raise artists that are outstanding partners for your reading chill-out sessions. We are thankful for their music, and much more if they help you to read again.

See you next Friday 30th of September, with the sixth episode of the saga “Loving to read as a strategist: Reading in the XX century”. Blessings, and thank you for reading to me.

“Loving to Read as a Strategist”. Illustrative and non-commercial image. Giphy source from Nazaret Escobedo


Sources of reference are utilized today.

All the references used to write today are included in each of the slides.

Disclaimer: Illustrations in Watercolor are painted by Eleonora Escalante. Other types of illustrations or videos (which are not mine) are used for educational purposes ONLY. Nevertheless, most of the pictures, images, or videos shown on this blog are not mine. I do not own any of the lovely photos or images posted unless otherwise stated.

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